The Helmetclava by Outdoor Research

Outdoor Research Helmetclava
Photo: Outdoor Research

Back in November, a commenter named Pat told us about the Helmetclava, by Outdoor Research:

The BEST balaclava is the Outdoor Research Helmetclava. The front/face portion is both vented and made from windstopper. The rear is slightly thinner and fleece. The top is much thinner, but still keeps my bald head warm in 15F temperatures with a regular helmet.

One of the best winter commuting purchases I’ve made.

I had to check out Pat’s hype.

At $35 MSRP, it’s more expensive than other balaclavas you can find. It is indeed a fine piece of winter commuting gear, but it takes a little getting used to.

The three materials are best appreciated when it is turned inside out. To quote the packaging, it has:

  • WINDSTOPPER® Soft Shell fabric is windproof and weather resistant
  • Motion Fleeceâ„¢ neck fabric for warmth and moisture transport
  • Thermodynamicâ„¢ fabric crown and ear panels provide stretch and breathability

Helmetclava ModesWait. “Thermodynamic” is trademarked by someone? Is “gravitation” trademarked too? What about “momentum?” Is Outdoor Research part of some powerful cabal that has trademarked the laws of nature? Does this ultra-secret group control the weather–in order to sell outdoor clothing? The Illuminati is nothing compared to this. Calling Dan Brown

Where was I?

Yes. The Helmetclava is quite comfortable and warm. The cap section is attached to the back, and can flip down almost like a hood, which allows for several modes, shown as icons on the packaging.

The “venting” mode “looks like a do-rag,” according to one of my coworkers, which he said while laughing at me.

Suffocation Warning
The Missing Icon

Missing from the icons on the packaging was any warning that, unlike other balaclavas I’ve used, you can’t breath easily through this one unless the “laser die-cut breathing port” is positioned right on your nose and mouth.

I like keeping my face warm. I don’t like suffocation.

Helmetclava breathing port
The laser die-cut breathing port

At rest, breathing is easy even if those little holes aren’t well positioned. However, during the first couple of rides wearing the Helmetclava, when I reached the top of the biggest hill on my commute, I found myself pulling the front of it down from my nose and mouth and panting to catch my breath. (I should add that the top of this hill is at an elevation of 7000 feet, so respiration can be difficult under the best of conditions.)

I discovered that when I positioned the breathing port perfectly over my nose and mouth, the chin strap on my helmet would pull the front down by about an inch–which was enough to make breathing difficult. (Hey, helmet haters, there’s some free fodder for you. You’re welcome.)

It’s not easy to adjust the front of the Helmetclava when the chin strap is in place. I did some experiments, and discovered that if I pulled the front up to the top of my eyelids before fastening the chin strap, after it would pull down to the right position. Yay, I can breathe!

1A: Perfect position before strapping...

1B: Too low after strapping.

2A: Across my eyeballs before strapping...

2B: Perfect position after strapping! That's why I'm smiling.

I compared the Helmetclava to the Pace Sportswear Balaclava, which has fewer features, and doesn’t insulate nearly as well. But it doesn’t need breathing ports; I could suck air through any part of it, or wear it backwards if I wanted.

I think I’ll stick with the Helmetclava, now that I’ve mastered breathing while wearing the thing. But I wouldn’t recommend this for kids.

P.S. Thanks for not asking about the little plastic green flower on my helmet.

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7 thoughts on “The Helmetclava by Outdoor Research”

  1. Andy says:

    Whomever thought tiny holes were suitable for breathing out of obviously didn’t think anyone was going to use this for any activity. It may work for standing around in the cold, but for cyclists and skiers that are typically buying ‘clavas, it’s a terrible design. I’d just sew an oval around the mouth section (to prevent fraying), and then cut away the inside. It’s hard enough to bike and breath with a balaclava, but going uphill and needing big breaths just doesn’t work.

    I’ve been thinking of modifying mine so that the front section is only held on by velcro. That way I can leave it off most of the time, and just apply it when it makes sense.

  2. joe says:

    I have switched from a balaclava over to a neck gaiter and a hat. It is more convenient when dealing with helmet straps and for regulating heat on climbs etc. Here is a review of the Patagonia, which is my favorite:


  3. sami says:

    I believe you should check out Cold Avenger by Talus Outdoor. The breathing system is a lot more usable, doesn’t fog your glasses, etc.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      That probably works great, but I’d have to get over the gas-mask look of it.

  4. Pat says:

    Gear selection is an individual thing.

    Ted, glad to see that you like it. I agree that there is a learning curve for getting the holes positioned just right. Once you’ve got them where they need to be, it works pretty well. My commute only has a few hills, and while they get me breathing hard, they’re pretty short lived.

    Like any piece of commuting gear, there are tradeoffs. While the hole configuration may not be perfect (arguably too few and interestingly placed), the other features cinch it for me. Last week, my commute was 12-16F. That’s pretty freaking cold, and an all around thinner balaclava wouldn’t do it for me.

    The windstopper on the front keeps my face warm but not sweaty, the rear neck piece keeps me warm but allows me to shed some heat, and the thinner head piece keeps me warm, wicks sweat, and allows me to shed heat so I don’t get too warm. The holes when optimally placed, let enough air in for moderate exertion, and it’s not an onslaught of cold air to my lungs (which is important to me since I’ve got asthma and really cold air can set it off).

    BTW, I’ve only ever utilized ninja mode, or mouth/nose exposed mode. I’m not much of a do-rag dude.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Gaiter mode is good too. Today I walked/bused to work, and it was 11℉. Ninja mode would have been overkill.

      I’m glad you found the article, Pat. I was going to tip you by e-mail today, but you found it on you own–loyal reader that you are.

      Thanks for the idea.

  5. DudleyDawson says:

    I recently switched to a GORE balaclava. It has pretty much identical paneling of this one, but the breathing vents are much better IMO.

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